19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 11:19–21.
The Book of Acts starts its focus on Jerusalem for an obvious reason being that Joel 2:28 was fulfilled there, with the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Church, however the writer of Acts, Luke the historian, sees a transition between the first chapters where God’s spiritual activity centred around Jerusalem, is now transitioning to Antioch. It is the influence of the Antioch Church that starts the missions to the Gentiles with the Gospel, whilst Peter’s own apostleship centres in Jerusalem we see God raise up Paul and Barnabas from Antioch. I was still in Portugal when God brought me into a detailed study into the Antioch church, and I saw it at the time as being a model for modern missions. However there is in terms of a visitation important aspects that we need to see.
A Church that transitions together matures together
The thing I noticed is we do not see any mention of leading elders, or apostles, what we see is a corporate growing up together. I am not saying that leadership of some sort here is wrong, or not necessary, I am saying that within what Luke relates, leadership does not seem to be the focus of what the Spirit is doing in this Church. What is the focus is corporate transition. That is the members of Antioch church transitioned from one level of maturity together. This level of maturity is not about the in words we have today, like “vision” “mission statement”. No, what God introduced through maturing gifted ministry were different levels of learning, from the evangelistic, discipleship teaching, pastoring, then prophets descended to Antioch, then social and aid work was instituted because God spoke of a famine that was coming. From here aid was sent to Jerusalem to help them in the sore times ahead. We then see a strong Church form, then in Acts 13, prophets and teachers understood that as elders they needed to have a special season of prayer, where apostolic mission was born through Paul and Barnabas. We see the Holy Spirit speak to separate them out and send them out. This was yet a powerful visitation of God because what results is 20 centuries of missionary and evangelistic work which covers the whole earth. Yet the changes that came to Antioch were not man made, nor were they the whims of a leader, or elders, or priests. The Holy Spirit Himself orchestrated the flow and transition between different levels of ministry which had one aim, maturity. It was not to further denominational slants, biases, politics. I think we really need to examine the Antioch model of church that is flowing towards impacting the known world. We need to examine this as more and more denominations lose sight of what “Ecclesia” really means, and embrace new trends, new philosophies, and embrace practices that are outlawed by the Word, yet for expediency are respectfully accepted.
The fact the Church was on the back foot, whilst prophetic voices saw the potential for the pandemic to be used as a trojan horse for other more sinister politics that have brought in several quarters throughout the world, we are seeing what was for the “common good” now flowing into the suppression of expression of protest, preservation of basic freedoms. Whether this is by design, or as a result of some sort of collective paranoia will one day be seen clearly. The Church needs to come back to the Antioch model because that way the things that are happening here to limit the Church, limit the Gospel in society will be met with a Church endued with power. Its not about denominational faithfulness, nor whose theology is correct, its about facing Christ and preaching Him. It is the maturity of Antioch that gives and endorses the ministry of the Apostle Paul, opening new avenues of Christ’s vision of His person in many many places. When you see the letters of Apostle John to the 7 Churches, in each Church you see an aspect of Jesus revealed. You don’t see Ephesus being say the “Church of cell groups,” or “Philadelphia” the Church of Love. What you see replicated is a facet of Jesus, and the whole network of Churches, with access to the five ascension ministry gifts strengthen the expression of Jesus in each Church.
Antioch: where the prophetic is practical
Prophets descended on the Church, and for a season it must have been a wonderful season. However we must note what level the saints were when the prophets arrived. They were already grounded, so they knew that what the prophets came to do was not do conferences, they were to open the ears of the saints to the Voice of God! There were no prophetic lines, no queueing for prophetic words, rather each saint was trained to hear God for himself. What came out is resembling Joseph and the interpretation of Pharoah’s dream, revealing it when he had forgotten it. God revealed a famine, not just a famine, but practically gave strategy. Antioch became a GIVING CHURCH. The prophetic word became strategy, a practical initiative that saved lives. I am sure with the discreditation of the prophets with political prophetic words, God is winnowing and cleaning it all out, because the prophetic must alert us to dangers, alert us to practically outreach to communities. Our practical outworking bringing Christ into action with people.
So how do we transport this to today? I believe we are on the threshold of the last harvest of Gentiles, and the transition to God revealing Jesus to His own. Zechariah 12:10. In this last Gentile Harvest Satan knows his time is short, which means he is going to agitate the nations in the following ways: financially, war, food shortages, famines, climate extremes. Civil unrests, government persecuting the Church. We are seeing so called democratic countries being now the great enemies of freedom and the Church. The prophetic must warn, but must bring wisdom, that is inspire the Church to be a practical force as well as a spiritual force.
How Antioch transitions to Ephesus
When you read Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus, you see pinnacle of the revelation of Jesus Christ. When you consider that Paul, and his letters form a great part of the New Testament, we see the root in Antioch, and now we see the fruit in Ephesus. In many of the retreats I have conducted, many times I have exhorted the importance that the root determines the fruit. The root of Antioch in contrast to the fruit shows a close order and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit in the Church. How we see this in Acts is demonstrated in the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 3:19-21, where he affirms that the Father would send Jesus TO them in the person of the Holy Spirit, in that from the right hand position of the Ascended Lord, He supervises the transitions of the Church throughout all ages. It is incumbent on Jesus bringing the full manifestation of the Kingdom, incumbent on the Father to establish “His King” on His Holy Hill, (Psalm 2), and incumbent on the Holy Spirit to perfect the Church so she is ready to full union with Christ in eternity. So Antioch represents this model in its outworking, and all churches founded on their “sowing” of the apostolic through Paul reflects on the solidity of Antioch the mother Church of mission, and Jerusalem the mother Church from the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). I am convinced as I am writing this message that as we as a generation return to Antioch as a model and as a intimate change in all of us we will transition into the greatest display of Jesus in the Church greater than the first outpourings of the Spirit.
So as we look to the fruit of Antioch in Ephesus, we see the whole plan of God for sons, for saints, for families, marriages interwoven into the fabric of eternity. We then see a transition from the armour of Justice in Isaiah 59 to the Armour of Righteousness in Ephesians 6, and how we resist the things which would chip away and undermine the rich and deep dimensions of Christ demonstrated in His Church. How we not only resist (1), but we retain (2) until we are received (3) into our eternal abode.
We do not just look to Scripture but also history, that Apostle John took on the leadership of Ephesus, taking with him Mary, the mother of Jesus there. Is it not heartbreaking that the generation that received Paul’s letter, 30 years later, the apostle John saw a failing of generational example, the first generation of believers did not pass on the richness of those first believers, now the form had replaced the face of Christ. Christ through John threatens to remove the Lampstand for the dying ember of love. It is in 431AD that the Council of Ephesus put to rest many theological conflicts prevalent in that age. We must therefore examine Scripture, examine history and take our lessons, because we too can lose our first love. This is why we must learn the momentum, the reasons and lessons of visitations of God.
This message has taken a while to be conceived. It has within it a heart cry of Jesus Himself to us: to return to Antioch, the root of apostolic mission, where the globe and we know Jesus because the Church of Antioch focussed on that which is important. Therefore may we reflect on this, and may our return to Antioch spurn an end time visitation.